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Protecting and passing along digital assets

In the age of the Internet, estate planning increasingly includes decisions about digital data that would have been inconceivable a generation ago.

To be sure, traditional questions about who should receive which property remain as important as ever. Someone seeking to pass along property must make wise choices about the effective transfer of assets, using instruments such as trusts, wills and gifts.

But now, more and more, there are also digital assets to pass along. In this post, let's look at some of the ways this can affect estate planning or estate administration.

First of all, there is the practical issue of making sure that heirs are able to obtain access to online financial accounts that require a valid password in order to sign in. People who are planning wealth transfers should make sure that account numbers and log-in information are properly made available to appropriate parties at the right time.

Ensuring this access is essentially an administrative matter. There can also be questions, however, about the transfer of other types of digital assets. And those questions can create potential administrative challenges.

For example, someone may have a Web domain that could be extremely valuable for electronic commerce. Or someone could have a social-media account that receives signficant numbers of visitors.

Even for someone whose Web presence is not so high profile, it still makes sense to inventory online assets and make sure an appropriate person can access them in the event of death or incapacity. This could be done, for example, by creating a trust.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Make Sure You Know Who Will Inherit Your Twitter Account," Arden Dale, September 18, 2013

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